By DONOVAN HARRELL
University administrators have responded to a letter from student leaders calling for the expulsion of a Pitt student accused of sending racist messages and threats to a Pittsburgh resident.
Provost Ann Cudd and Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner sent the joint statement July 6 after the Black Action Society posted the letter on July 5, signed by several student organizations including Student Government Board President Zechariah Brown.
The students were prompted to respond to an incident on June 27, when a Pittsburgh resident Tweeted screenshots of messages sent to him on Snapchat. The screenshots show that an account attributed to “Ethan Kozak” sent a series of racist, threatening messages to the resident. Other students quickly recognized Ethan Kozak as the name of another Pitt student.
The Pitt News reported last week that Kozak, a political science major, had admitted to sending the messages.
The University’s official Twitter account condemned the messages in a series of replies to the screenshots on the same day the original Tweet was sent.
“The content of these messages are contrary to the University’s core values and we’ve shared them with our Office of Diversity and Inclusion,” one Tweet reads. “The messages linked to this individual are offensive & egregious. The University & law enforcement are taking appropriate responsive action and the Pitt Police are aware. While we can't discuss the details of our response, it’s worth reiterating that we take this very seriously.”
Student leaders demanded that Kozak be expelled, fined and assessed by a counselor. The letter also called for a new “hate speech policy” for the “entire University system to protect all students and hold those who violate said policy accountable.”
“We feel it is necessary for the University to distinguish between misconduct that results in ‘individual student sanctions’ as outlined by the Student Code of Conduct, and this type of unspeakable behavior,” the letter reads.
Cudd and Bonner explained in their statement that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, prevents the University from releasing certain details about students, other than the fact that they are enrolled at Pitt, in order to protect their privacy.
The statement said the Pittsburgh resident who received the messages did not have any known ties Pitt. The Student Code of Conduct, according to the statement, forbids students from sending violent threats — “racist comments run in absolute and stark contrast to the University of Pittsburgh’s values and mission.”
The statement goes on to reiterate Pitt’s commitment to making its campuses safe and inclusive for students of color, the LGBTQIA community and other marginalized groups.
“We are in full agreement that incidents like this are deeply upsetting and exact a heavy emotional and psychological toll,” the statement from Cudd and Bonner reads. “Racial and homophobic slurs uniquely harm the sense of safety and belonging of individuals who identify with the targeted group.”
Cudd and Bonner said there will be discussions about “strengthening” the Student Code of Conduct as the University is “seeking out new opportunities to discuss the destructive power of white supremacy, racism, sexism, gender discrimination, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of hateful language.”
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-383-9905.